A tour guide has recalled the horror of being stuck in the throat of a huge male hippo while leading a trip down the Zambezi River – Africa’s fourth-longest river. Paul Templer, 28, was leading the tour of three canoes alongside three apprentice guides in the Zimbabwe stretch of the Zambezi. The group then came across a pod of about a dozen hippos, something to be expected in this part of Africa. All was calm until Evans, one of the other guides, fell into the water.
Paul recalled: “Suddenly, there’s this big thud. And I see the canoe, like the back of it, catapulted up into the air. And Evans, the guide in the back of the canoe, catapulted out of the canoe.”
“Evans is in the water, and the current is washing Evans towards a mama hippo and her calf 150 meters. [490 feet] away. … So I know I’ve got to get him out quickly. I don’t have time to drop my clients off.”
In an attempt to rescue his colleague and friend, Paul turned his canoe to move in the direction of Evans, who was headed for a female hippo and her calf.
This is when Paul found himself in a life-threatening predicament of his own.
He told CNN: “I’m leaning over – it’s kind of a made-for-Hollywood movie – Evans is reaching up. … Our fingers almost touched. And then the water between us just erupted. Happened so fast that I didn’t see a thing.
“My world went dark and strangely quiet.
“From the waist down, I could feel the water. I could feel I was wet in the river. From my waist up, it was different. I was warm, and it wasn’t wet like the river, but it wasn’t dry either. And it was just incredible pressure on my lower back. I tried to move around; I couldn’t.
“I realized I was up to my waist down a hippo’s throat.”
The hippo then spat Paul out. He believes that the animal must have found it uncomfortable.
Paul tried to reach Evans once again, but he was then struck a second time.
He continued: “I got hit from below. So once again, I’m up to my waist down the hippo’s throat. But this time my legs are trapped but my hands are free.”
The hippo spat him out a second time. This time, Paul could not see Evans.
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While trying to swim to safety, the hippo came back for a third attack.
Paul said: “I’m making pretty good progress and I’m swimming along there and I come up for the stroke and swimming freestyle and I look under my arm – and until my dying day I’ll remember this – there’s this hippo charging. in towards me with his mouth wide open bearing in before he scores a direct hit.
“And then he just goes berserk. … When hippos are fighting, the way they fight is they try to tear apart and just destroy whatever it is they’re attacking.
“For me, fortunately, everything was happening in slow motion. So when he’d go underwater, I’d hold my breath. When we were on the surface, I would take a deep breath and I would try to hold onto tusks that were boring through me” to stop from being ripped apart.”
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Paul added that one of the clients who witnessed the attack said it was like a “vicious dog trying to rip apart a rag doll.”
After escaping the jaws of a huge male hippo a third time, Paul managed to position himself on a rock in the Zambezi.
He was without his belongings, separated from his fellow guides and clients, and his body was severely injured.
Paul recalled: “My left foot was especially bad; it looked as if someone had tried to beat a hole through it with a hammer.” He added that one arm was “crushed to a pulp”.
Blood was pouring from his mouth and Paul later realized he had also suffered a punctured lung.
Mack, another guide, saw a big hole in Paul’s back, and tried to plug it with Saran Wrap from a plate of snacks.
The group was eventually able to make it out of the river. They were still without Evans, whose body was sadly found three days later. It was concluded that he had drowned due to the absence of signs of an animal attack.
After being taken to safety by a Zimbabwean rescue team, Paul was seen at the hospital. He feared at one stage he may lose a leg and both arms. His surgeon didn’t think he would survive.
In the end, the surgeon was able to save Paul’s life, but the tour guide was told he would have to lose one arm.
Two years after the attack, Paul says he now focuses on what is possible, adding: “If you look for what’s possible, it generally is.”